Kurt A. Smemo, PhD









Ph.D. 2003, Cornell University
M.S. 1998, University of Illinois
B.S. 1993, University of Montana

Adjunct Appointments:

Adjunct Assistant Professor,

Kent State University


Adjunct Assistant Professor,

W.K. Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan State University

Research Interests

As human activities are fundamentally altering the environment, our ability to solve many environmental and societal problems over the next several decades will depend on our understanding of the basic structure and function of ecosystems and how they respond to current and future environmental changes. A disproportionate amount those functions and responses occur or are mediated in soil. In general, my research questions address how plants and soil organisms interact with their environment to control the cycling of carbon and nutrients via decomposition of organic matter, and how those processes are altered by global environmental changes.


For example, acid rain and associated nitrogen depositon – pollution derived from burning fossil fuel – can alter the function of both plants and soil microorganisms. This is particularly relevant in the Great Lakes region and Northeast Ohio where acid rain and land use change has increased acidity and the bioavailability of nitrogen in soils, surface waters, and ground waters.


Below are a sample of on-going projects. In my lab, we take a collaborative approach to science, and we employ a variety of methods and techniques ranging from stable isotopic techniques to microbial community characterization. 

Some Current Projects

  • Biogeography and spatial structure of ecological communities in relation to ecosystem properties (more). 

  • Soil acidification and its effects on carbon and nutrient cycling and productivity in hardwood forests (more).

  • Fungal diversity and ecosystem function in beech-maple forests (more).

  • Winter soil ecology and altered precipitaton dynamics (more).

  • Controls on the production and emission of greenhouses gases (methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide) from forest, wetland, and agricultural soils (more).

Selected Publications

DeForest JL, Smemo KA, and Burke DJ. 2012. Soil microbial responses to elevated phosphorus and pH in acidic temperate deciduous forests. Biogeochemistry 109:189-202.


Preston MD, Smemo KA, McLaughlin JW, and Basiliko N. 2012. Microbial communities and decomposition processes of peatlands in the James Bay lowlands, Canada. Frontiers in Terrestrial Microbiology 3:1-15. PDF


Gupta V, Smemo KA, Yavitt JB, and Basiliko N.  2012. Active methanotrophs in two contrasting North American peatland ecosystems revealed using DNA-SIP. Microbial Ecology  63:438-445. 


Smemo, KA., Robertson GP, Ostrom NE, Opdyke M, Bohm S, and Ostrom PH.  2011. Improving process-based estimates of N2O emissions from soil using temporally extensive chamber techniques and stable isotopes. Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems 91:145-154. 


Smemo KA and Yavitt JB. 2011. Anaerobic oxidation of methane: an underappreciated aspect of methane cycling in peatland ecosystems? Biogeosciences 8:779-793. PDF

Burke DJ, López-Gutiérrez JC, Smemo KA , and Chan. 2009. Soil environment and vegetation influence the spatial distribution of ectomycorrhizas in a mature beech- maple forest. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 79(24): 7639-7648. PDF

Smemo KA and Yavitt JB. 2007. Evidence for anaerobic methane oxidation in freshwater peatland ecosystems. Geomicrobiology Journal 24(7):1-15.

Smemo KA, Zak DR, Pregitzer KS and Burton AJ. 2007. Qualitative characteristics of DOC exports fromNorthern Hardwood Forests in response to Chronic experimental NO3- deposition. Ecosystems 10(3): 369-379.